First it was rock and roll. Then came television. Now it’s driving. What’s next? Sex? Probably not. But then again, who born in the 20th century would ever have thought they’d live long enough to see teenagers turn their back on classic guitar-based rock, give up sitting in front of TV for hours on end with eyes glued to the screen and–could it really be so– no longer start a mad year-long rush toward getting their driver license on the morning of their 16th birthday?
What’s with the youth of today? Justin Bieber and One Direction, watching entire seasons of a TV show on a screen smaller than the remote controls of the 1970s and no driver license in the wallet by the time they get old enough to sacrifice their live in an unnecessary war in a country they probably couldn’t even find on a map before they were sent there? One thing’s for sure: there is not going to be the contemporary equivalent of “American Graffiti” made twenty years from now about teens living in a small town today.
As you might expect, a name has already been applied to what turns out to be a something of a worldwide trend that one suspects can only result in night terrors, nightmares or night sweats for everyone working in the automotive industry. “Driving Ambivalence” is great news for those who love catchy descriptive names, but has got to be viewed as the worst possible news about the ever-changing paradigm of those pesky millennial teenagers.
If you haven’t quite been made aware of the trend toward “Driving Ambivalence” among teens of driving age from America to New Zealand, then you must not have teenage kids. And even if you do have teenage kids, you may not have realized that your own experience with a son or daughter who seemed surprisingly apathetic toward the idea of getting that license to drive was part of a collective movement.
I was a little taken aback when own two children showed what can charitably be described as a cavalier attitude to the idea of biting from the cookie filled with arsenic known as the independence of being able to drive. And, truth be told, I really didn’t take it as a sign of a much larger trend within the world of cars and driving when I learned that most of their friends of driving age also did not possess so much as a learner’s permit.
Turns out, however, that what I viewed as a purely personal experience associated with a certain personality type shared by my kids and their friends is not just part of a growing trend, but is a growing trend that has been building for several years now. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of high school seniors who have a valid driver license fell from 85% in 1986 to just 73% in 2010.
If you think that number is surprising, prepare for the need to physically push the bottom of your jaw back in place. According to figures from the Dept. of Transportation, half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 did not possess a driver license in 2011. That figure by itself represents a startling trend by itself in the America that has been obsessed with cars since they first started rolling off Henry Ford’s assembly. But when you learn that figure represents a 22% drop in the number of licensed drivers between those age in 1983, well, you can be sure that there have been some pretty intense meetings going late into the night among those automotive industry execs who barely even had to bother with with marketing their products to entice their youngest customers.
“Driving Ambivalence.” Even if you have had firsthand experience with it, you probably weren’t aware you were witnessing what has the potential to be single most epoch-shattering lifestyle change in modern American history. Even worse for those who have come to depend on the natural impatience of youth to pass that driving test: it’s not just an American thing.